Local peppers, locavore privilege and a push for food justice

My community is gearing up for its 6th Annual Amazing Abundance Pepper Festival.

Guests will eat endless amounts of delicious pepper-related cuisine, both sweet and savory, from some of the finest chefs in the region. They'll sup on local wines and microbrews—including, if previous years are anything to go by, a hot pepper beer. They'll explore interactive displays on sustainable agriculture and renewable energy. They'll dance to some of the finest bands that our local scene has to offer.

And they'll pay $30 - $35 for the privilege.

Now usually, when I mention the price, I get one of two reactions:

"Gosh, that's very reasonable for a mountain of local, sustainable food and quality entertainment."
or
"$35!!!! You've got to be kidding me. This is just another elitist locavore lovefest."

And here's the thing: both are right, in their own way.

$35 is extremely reasonable given the costs of putting on such an event without cutting ethical corners. (I won't tell you how much I paid for tickets to an Iron Maiden show recently.) And $35 is also prohibitively expensive for many people who deserve to be a part of the local food scene. (The real scandal is not the cost of the ticket, it's that so many people are struggling to get by.)

Bad food has been artificially cheap for so long. Based on farm subsidies and externalizing its environmental and health impacts, junk food has monopolized the marketplace, leading to a situation where many people are locked in to a diet that is killing them. (Remember the junk food businesses are drug dealers video making the rounds a while back?) It's unlikely that many folks will be leaving the food deserts to snack on roasted pepper crostata and dance to some blue grass. (Given the resourcefulness and resilience of many poor communities, they may be too busy forging their own contributions to the local food economy to come partying anyhow.)

But that doesn't mean it won't impact them. The Abundance Foundation, the organization responsible for the festival, is already doing sterling work promoting food justice. And the local food movement—so often ridiculed as a concern of the wealthy—is crucial to reinventing our whole economy for the better.

For one thing, adapting our food system to the perils of climate change is a concern that touches every single citizen. And it's a theme that underlies all of the pepper-related frivolities. Here's how The Abundance Foundation's Tami Schwerin puts it:

Adaptation is a big thing for the Abundance Foundation. Our agricultural zone is becoming increasingly hot and increasingly arid. In order to preserve the fecundity of our food shed we will need new breeds, and new varieties, and a new understanding of how adaptation occurs. Adaptation matters. Peppers matter.

But adaptation is about more than just crops. It's about fairness too.

Every small farmer that finds a way to make a living is doing her or his part to build an alternative. Every restaurant that uses local food, or pays its workers a living wage, or gives food away to those who need it, is taking steps toward a world where everyone has access to healthy, delicious food.

Next time someone criticizes the local food movement for being elitist, remember that it isn't.

And then double your resolve to make sure that's the case.

In the meantime, come along to The Sixth Annual Amazing Abundance Pepper Festival, if you can spare the cash.

October 6, 2013 3-7pm
Briar Chapel, Chapel Hill NC
30 Chefs, Brewers and Artisans, EMCEE, Frank Stasio, Host of WUNC Radio's State of Things.

Live Music:
Big Fat Gap, Loamlands, Steph Stewart and the Boyfriends
Kids 12 and Under Free: Activities include Big Bubbles, Face painting, Garage Creative, Acrobats,
Energy Education, Food Non-profits.

Tickets: $30 early and $35 at the door for endless local pepper foods, entertainment, and music.

CASH BAR for micro-brews and wine.

Tags: Activism | Agriculture | resilience

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